Yes, Men Get Lymphedema. Know the Risks and How Physical Therapy Can Help.

Lymphedema is a condition that most people associate with women and breast cancer, but men can get it too. It is characterized by swelling in the extremities, usually in the arms or legs, caused by an accumulation of lymph fluid. Lymphedema most often occurs in men following cancer surgery and radiation for areas like the head/neck, breast, prostate, pancreas, bladder, kidney, and liver. In this article, we’ll discuss the risks of lymphedema in men, the warning signs to look out for, the importance of an early diagnosis, and how physical therapy can help.

Lymphedema afflicts up to 10 million people in the U.S. alone. It has been reported that the incidence of lymphedema following cancer surgery varies widely across studies and types of cancer, but some estimates suggest that between 5% and 40% of men may develop lymphedema following cancer surgery.

It’s important to note that lymphedema can occur immediately after surgery or develop many months or even years later, so ongoing monitoring and early intervention can be important for reducing the risk of complications associated with this condition.

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Why Awareness of Lymphedema in Men Matters 

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Because lymphedema in men needs more awareness, it not unusual for patients to received a delayed diagnosis. Unfortunately, this results in delayed treatment which generally makes the condition more difficult to treat and can lead to other serious complications.

“I knew that when I had my bladder cancer surgery they had taken out a bunch of lymph nodes,” said Rick, a 76-year old lymphedema patient in Orange County. “I didn’t know then, I only learned later that it would keep open the possibility that I would develop lymphedema. It did about 6 months later. Even then, it took people a little while to diagnosis it.

“I wish that I was aware that the swelling that I experienced was lymphedema and that I could have tested for it and gotten therapy for it sooner,” he added. “My advice to others that are going through similar surgeries, where lymph nodes are removed, the possibility of lymphedema lingers.”

Common Symptoms of Lymphedema

The most common symptom of lymphedema is localized swelling, usually in the arms or legs. This is caused by a buildup of lymph fluid in the affected area. Other symptoms may include a feeling of heaviness or tightness, pain, difficulty with movement, and recurrent infection.

Fortunately, physical therapy with a certified lymphedema therapist is a great way to treat and manage lymphedema. The physical therapist will create a comprehensive treatment plan that focuses on improving the patient’s range of motion, muscle strength and flexibility, as well as providing specific treatments to reduce swelling and protect the affected limb. Commonly used physical therapy techniques for lymphedema treatment include manual lymph drainage, home compression pumps, compression wraps and garments, and diet and exercise programs.

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Men should take action and get checked for lymphedema if they experience any of the symptoms associated with the condition. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to ease the symptoms and reduce the risk of further complications. Working with a certified lymphedema therapist can help manage the condition through a variety of treatments designed to reduce swelling and improve function and quality of life.

Risks of Lymphedema in Men

For men, the risks of developing lymphedema are highest in those who are overweight or obese, have an underlying medical condition such as cancer, suffer from certain medications such as steroids, are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, or have recently undergone surgery. Men who participate in contact sports or activities that involve repetitive movements, such as tennis or running, are more likely to develop lymphedema over time. Additionally, individuals with a family history of lymphedema are more likely to be affected by the condition.

Other risk factors include a weakened immune system, a history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and men over the age of 50 are also more likely to develop lymphedema.

For patients planning to undergo cancer treatment for the head/neck, breast, prostate, melanoma, bladder, or kidneys and may be a risk for lymphedema, having an evaluation prior to surgery is beneficial to receive education and establish baseline measurements for future comparison.

Why Early Diagnosis of Lymphedema Matters

Early diagnosis is key in the prevention and management of lymphedema, and the awareness of symptoms and risks is the first step to successful treatment.

“Because there is no cure for lymphedema, it is vitally important to catch it early, when it is the most treatable and manageable,” said Kim Marshall, DPT, CLT of Progressive Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation.  “In my 20 years of experience, when I can see a patient with early lymphedema almost always we are able to control it and keep it from significantly impacting a patient’s life in a negative way.”

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Physical Therapy for Men with Lymphedema

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During a physical therapy evaluation, the certified lymphedema therapist will assess the extent of the swelling and range of motion of the affected limb or body region. The physical therapist will also evaluate the patient’s individual risk factors for lymphedema and recommend appropriate treatments and exercises.

Exercises can help reduce lymphedema in men, as well as improve their overall mobility and strength. The physical therapist will work with the patient to design a personalized exercise plan that is tailored to the patient’s individual needs. Common exercises used to treat lymphedema in men include strength, balance, and flexibility exercises.

In addition to exercises, physical therapists use various treatments to reduce swelling, improve movement, and provide relief from symptoms of lymphedema. Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a technique used to move and mobilize fluids that are stuck in the tissues, increasing the circulation and allowing fluids to move away from the area. Additionally, compression garments are commonly used to reduce the swelling and provide support to the affected limb or body area. Portable compression pumps that are designed to be used a home may also be part of the treatment plan.

In Conclusion

Lymphedema affects men, just as it does women, and can present in both subtle and severe forms. It is important for men to be aware of the risk factors for lymphedema, as well as the warning signs to look out for. Early diagnosis of lymphedema is key to preventing long-term damage and physical therapy can be highly effective in managing the condition. Certified lymphedema therapists are educated and experienced in developing individualized therapies that can reduce swelling and improve circulation, ultimately leading to an improved quality of life. It is important for men to be aware of the risks of lymphedema and to seek professional medical advice if symptoms persist or worsen. With the right interventions and support, men can manage their lymphedema and live the life they want.

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Lymphedema services are offered exclusively in our Garden Grove clinic.

Contact us today for more information or to schedule an evaluation at  714.643.9012.